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Post-secondary education

Riley Acton.

In the competitive U.S. higher education market, institutions differentiate themselves to attract both students and tuition dollars. One understudied example of this differentiation is the increasing trend of "colleges" becoming "universities" by changing their names. Leveraging variation in the timing of such conversions in an event study framework, I show that becoming a university increases enrollments at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, which leads to an increase in degree production and total revenues. I further find that these effects are largest when institutions are the first in their market to convert to a university and can lead to negative spillover effects on non-converting colleges.

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Soobin Kim, John Yun, Barbara Schneider, Michael Broda, Christopher Klager, I-Chien Chen.

We study the long-term effects of a psychological intervention on longitudinal academic outcomes and degree completion of college students. All freshmen at a large public university were randomized to an online growth mindset, belonging, or control group. We tracked students’ academic outcomes including GPA, number of credits attempted and earned, major choices, and degree completion. We found no evidence of longitudinal academic treatment effects in the full sample. However, the mindset treatment improved term GPAs for Latinx students and the probability for Pell-eligible and Latinx students to major in selective majors. We also found no evidence of increased rates of on-time graduation, however, the treatment raised the probability to graduate with selective majors in four years, especially for Latinx students.

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Kelli A. Bird, Benjamin L. Castleman, Brett Fischer, Benjamin T. Skinner.

Recent state policy efforts have focused on increasing attainment among adults with some college but no degree (SCND). Yet little is actually known about the SCND population. Using data from the Virginia Community College System (VCCS), we provide the first detailed profile on the academic, employment, and earnings trajectories of the SCND population, and how these compare to VCCS graduates. We show that the share of SCND students who are academically ready to reenroll and would benefit from doing so may be substantially lower than policy makers anticipate. Specifically, we estimate that few SCND students (approximately three percent) could fairly easily re-enroll in fields of study from which they could reasonably expect a sizable earnings premium from completing their degree.

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Todd R. Jones, Arielle Sloan.

We use roster data of 96 top U.S. economics departments to document the academic origins of their tenure-track faculty. Academic origins may have implications for how undergraduate (B.A.) and doctoral (Ph.D.) students are trained and placed, as well as the type of research produced. We find that faculty educated at top-ranked Ph.D. universities are overrepresented; e.g., over half of our sample attended a top 15 university, and over a third attended a top six university. We find similar, but less pronounced, patterns for B.A. origins; e.g., over a third of those with a U.S. B.A. attended a top 15 university.

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Margot Jackson, Emily Rauscher, Ailish Burns.

Recent expansions of child tax, food assistance and health insurance programs have made American families’ need for a robust social safety net highly evident, while researchers and policymakers continue to debate the best way to support families via the welfare state. How much do children – and which children – benefit from social spending? Using the State-by-State Spending on Kids Dataset, linked to National Vital Statistics System birth data from 1998-2017, we examine how state-level child spending affects infant health across maternal education groups. We find that social spending has benefits for both low birth weight and preterm birth rates, especially among babies born to mothers with less than a high school education. The stronger benefits of social spending among lower-educated families lead to meaningful declines in educational gaps in infant health as social spending increases. Finally, mediation analyses suggest that social spending benefits infant health through mothers’ increased access to prenatal services, as well as improvements in health behaviors. Our findings are consistent with the idea that a strong local welfare state benefits child health and increases equality of opportunity, and that spending on non-health programs is equally beneficial for child health as investments in health programs.

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Vladimir Kogan, Brandon Genetin, Joyce Chen, Alan Kalish.

Student surveys are widely used to evaluate university teaching and increasingly adopted at the K-12 level, although there remains considerable debate about what they measure. Much disagreement focuses on the well-documented correlation between student grades and their evaluations of instructors. Using individual-level data from 19,000 evaluations of 700 course sections at a flagship public university, we leverage both within-course and within-student variation to rule out popular explanations for this correlation. Specifically, we show that the relationship cannot be explained by instructional quality, workload, grading stringency, or student sorting into courses. Instead, student grade satisfaction -- regardless of the underlying cause of the grades -- appears to be an important driver of course evaluations. We also present results from a randomized intervention with potential to reduce the magnitude of the association by reminding students to focus on relevant teaching and learning considerations and by increasing the salience of the stakes attached to evaluations for instructor careers. However, these prove ineffective in muting the relationship between grades and student scores.
 

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Derek Rury.

To study beliefs about ability and STEM major choice, I conduct a field experiment where I provide students with information that they are above average in their top fields of study. I find that STEM students are more likely to switch out of their major and that non-STEM students fail to switch into STEM at the same rates as other fields. I also find that learning you are above average in your top field of study increases STEM major choice by almost a third, as STEM students appear more like to persist and non-STEM students increase their switching into STEM fields.

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Benjamin W. Arold, Ludger Woessmann, Larissa Zierow.

We study whether compulsory religious education in schools affects students' religiosity as adults. We exploit the staggered termination of compulsory religious education across German states in models with state and cohort fixed effects. Using three different datasets, we find that abolishing compulsory religious education significantly reduced religiosity of affected students in adulthood. It also reduced the religious actions of personal prayer, church-going, and church membership. Beyond religious attitudes, the reform led to more equalized gender roles, fewer marriages and children, and higher labor-market participation and earnings. The reform did not affect ethical and political values or non-religious school outcomes.

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Zachary Bleemer, Aashish Mehta.

Underrepresented minority (URM) college students have been steadily earning degrees in relatively less-lucrative fields of study since the mid-1990s. A decomposition reveals that this widening gap is principally explained by rising stratification at public research universities, many of which increasingly enforce GPA restriction policies that prohibit students with poor introductory grades from declaring popular majors. We investigate these GPA restrictions by constructing a novel 50-year dataset covering four public research universities' student transcripts and employing a staggered difference-in-difference design around the implementation of 29 restrictions. Restricted majors’ average URM enrollment share falls by 20 percent, which matches observational patterns and can be explained by URM students’ poorer average pre-college academic preparation. Using first-term course enrollments to identify students who intend to earn restricted majors, we find that major restrictions disproportionately lead URM students from their intended major toward less-lucrative fields, driving within-institution ethnic stratification and likely exacerbating labor market disparities.

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Matthew D. Baird, John Engberg, Isaac M. Opper.

We consider the case in which the number of seats in a program is limited, such as a job training program or a supplemental tutoring program, and explore the implications that peer effects have for which individuals should be assigned to the limited seats. In the frequently-studied case in which all applicants are assigned to a group, the average outcome is not changed by shuffling the group assignments if the peer effect is linear in the average composition of peers. However, when there are fewer seats than applicants, the presence of linear-in-means peer effects can dramatically influence the optimal choice of who gets to participate. We illustrate how peer effects impact optimal seat assignment, both under a general social welfare function and under two commonly used social welfare functions. We next use data from a recent job training RCT to provide evidence of large peer effects in the context of job training for disadvantaged adults. Finally, we combine the two results to show that the program's effectiveness varies greatly depending on whether the assignment choices account for or ignore peer effects.

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